I Only Listen to Edison Phonograph Cylinders, What Do You Have, CD’s?!

According to the New York Craigslist Instrument section, I’d say about 90% of crappy late 90’s equipment was purchased by people who now live on Long Island.  You need a Marshall Valvestate Half Stack?  How about a Hartke Bass Combo?  Some type of DSP Peavy amp?  It’s all there, those are actual examples from the first CL instruments page.  Long Island is such a weird place.  It scares the hell out of me.

CL Long Island jpg

Say what you will about elitist Brooklyn hipsters, they do appreciate a quality instruments and amps.  Vox AC15, Fender Bassman, Korg Monopoly…again, actual examples.  Just wanted to show contrast.  It’s obviously a swayed point of view, relax Vinny.

Damn Right Thats A Grado.

After several roadblocks, our record player is up and running at the new apartment.  Before the advent of the CD, people had to be way more handy than they do these days.  Have you ever replaced a turntable cartridge?  You have to deal with color coded wires the width of a human hair, tiny little screws and washers which can easily get lost in the turntable mechanism (and did!) alignment protractors, all sorts of crap.  No wonder we’re getting fat and lazy as a nation.  I burned hundreds of calories setting this thing up.  It does sound lovely though.

I can’t afford to be an Audiophile, but if you can, Park Avenue Audio is the way to go.  They walked me through the cartridge replacement, and delayed my inevitable descent into a Woody Allen like Jewish Freakout.

The Grado cartridge (made in Park Slope!) installed probably sounds better than the broken one that was in there previously, but I really have no idea.   I’m gonna say that the effect of vinyl is partially visual.  Seeing a record spinning while you hear what’s coming out has to trick your brain into feeling something different than just seeing a status bar on your iPhone.  Seeing what a performer looks like impacts how you perceive it…I’m going to bet Vinyl has a similar effect.

Two records were picked up in celebration;  A reissue of Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings 100 Days 100 Nights just to prove both old and new releases have a place in my house.  Yeah, that’s right, always gotta prove a point.

Apparently, Time Out Of Mind was not widely released on Vinyl.  Can someone get on this shit?  All I can see are a few import copies on ebay going in the multiple hundreds of dollars, and that’s just not kosher.  Mule Vatiations is widely available though.  There’s nothing I love more than a late career renaissance by an American eccentric.

That’s all for now, I hope you all enjoyed your Leap Day.  I’m gonna go make some Kale Chips and cocktails.

Sharon Jones And The Dap Kings Dec 13 2011 Bowery Ballroom Review

Very few bands can get away with a direct imitation of another era’s style.  It’s so hard to pull something off convincingly, let alone accurately.  Those swing bands of the 90’s, the garage band revival, the brief polka boom of the mid 2000’s, it often just doesn’t work.  So when Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings pull it off, it means that much more.

I’ve written on these here pages about Jones and the Dap Kings before, so I won’t go into an extended description of what they’re about.  You probably know, and to quote the one and only Binky Grip-Tight of the Dap Kings  “If you don’t know, you got to ask somebody!”

Sharon Jones 1

They held their Daptone 10th Anniversary Shows over 4 nights, 2 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, and 2 at the Bowery Ballroom.  First off, you have never seen that many people on the Bowery stage.  9 musicians in the band, 2 backup singers on a riser, and Jones out front.  Not exactly spacious.

The crowd at a Dap Kings show is unlike most indie bands crowds.  Decidedly less drunken obnoxious people, but the ones who are there, obviously gravitate right towards me.  Here’s a little tip.  If you’re a drunken white girl, it’s probably not the best idea to try to do those soul-vocal trill things from the crowd while Jones is in telling an emotional story about her mother being sick.  Ya know?  Just my opinion.

Something about the band seemed just slightly off last night.  Jones clearly was having monitor problems, kept asking for more reverb and saying she couldn’t hear.  While the dap kings stage presence is always stoic, it seemed a little more stoic than usual.  Having said that, (that’s a Larry David reference) Sharon Jones feeling a little off, is like most musicians on the best day of their lives, so we’ll give her a pass.

She still gives 100%, there is no doubting that.  The crowd at the Bowery responded to every move.  In one surprising moment, they brought out Eric Kalb to sit in on drums.  Kalb, an early childhood drumming hero, was part of Deep Banana Blackout, and was probably the first drummer I ever saw play in that ghost note shuffle style in person.  It permanently changed me as a musician.  I’ve heard he’s been playing with Charlie Hunter recently, as for the rest of Deep Banana, we don’t really know where they’ve gone…somewhere into the jam band ether.  We wish them the best.

Homer Steinweiss, the regular Dap Kings Drummer, (who also seems to have a Food Blog) apparently is a lefty,  something also discovered last night. The kit was set up semi backwards, playing the kick with his left foot, but still playing the hi hat with his right hand.  Whatever, he’s allowed to do what he wants.

My favorite Dap Kings show still remains the Starland Ballroom, in the Middle Of Nowhere, South Jersey, during a snow storm.  It’s always the unexpected ones that get you.  Yes, the Bowery was a great show, they played with precision most bands can only dream of.  But when the bar is set so incredibly high, you have to be held to that standard.  I’ll give them a pass this time, you’ve earned it Sharon Jones.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings @ Starland Ballroom

Let me just come right out and say it, if you want to see a real band, go see Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.  Yes, theoretically all bands are real bands, but thats kind of like when the Cheez-Its box says “Now With More Real Cheese Flavor!”  Lets examine some things that may get in the way.  Traditionally, there was the manufactured pop band.  This, I do not find so offensive, no one is really being tricked here.  There will always be bands of young people created by old white men for the purpose of making money.  The Monkey’s never played their own instruments, hundreds of bubblegum bands of that era were just there for the appearance, studio players actually recorded the albums.  Jimmy Page notoriously played several solos on Kinks albums (this was even confirmed by Page in the It Might Get Loud film)  But still, these parts are all being played by real musicians on real instruments.  Somewhere in there, someone has some talent, and has possibly even practiced their instrument.  One paradoxical example of this…is that The Dap Kings are the band on Amy Winehouse’s record, and without them, there is no way that album would have been as successful.

In recent years though, this has changed dramatically in a most bizarre way.  The Auto Tune phenomenon and various other studio trickery have changed the game for the worse.  I’m tempted not to say “for good”  because who knows, there could be a backlash, I’m certainly hoping for one.  I can’t even really get into this here, it will just upset me too much, and I’m not ready to let my day go to hell like that.  Lets just briefly say that Pro Tools, the most widely used recording platform, now advertises that each track now comes with “Elastic Time”.  What Elastic Time does, is time correct actual audio to a preset grid.  What this means, is that a player such as a drummer no longer needs to play in time, the most detailed of samples can be moved around to give the auditory appearance of playing in time.  This one just hurts.  Pitch correction, sure, we all knew that was coming.  But time correction on audio?  Come on!  Is there no motivation for someone to actually learn an instrument anymore? Well, seeing a band like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings I feel could change that.

This group has been around for a while, surrounded by some strange mythology.  From what I understand, bass player Gabriel Roth created Daptone Records, and released several “Reissue” 45 vinyl albums, which were not reissues of old soul recordings at all, but certainly sounded like it.  He believed in recording the old fashioned way, using no computers or trickery of any kind, all real musicians playing real notes.  Everything is recorded on an 8 track reel to reel tape machine, using minimal miking and overdubs.  What comes through is the real thing.  In many cases, these recordings are indistinguishable from the albums they are imitating, both in sound quality and musicianship.  I have heard nothing but stellar reviews of this band, so my expectations were quite high, which is always a dangerous thing.  Last week, my friend Jeff had invited me to check them out at “Southern NJ’s Finest Weird Mid Size Venue”- The Starland Ballroom…how could I pass that up?  So on the shittiest of Saturday nights, we braved the slushy rain/snow/wind combo, and headed south.

The Starland is an odd little place.  Its literally in the middle of nowhere, in Sayerville NJ.  I believe it was some type of dance club until the early 2000’s, when it seemed to take over for the old Birch Hill, as the Pop Punk/ Washed Up 80’s Band venue of NJ.  My old Ska band played there on the “Ska Is Dead” tour, which from what I remember was a great show.  The night before The Dap Kings, none other than Insane Clown Posse occupied the venue, and there were advertisements for Sebastian Bach as well.  But randomly, I saw Wilco there a few years back, and also The Black Crowes, so you really never know whats going to happen.

We arrived after the opening band to a medium filled house, which was kind of nice.  The crowd seemed laid back, no irritating hipsters to speak of, I would say the majority were 25 and older.  The Dap Kings took the stage in traditional Soul Revue style, the band coming out before the vocalist and doing a few instrumental tunes.  Everyone was clad in suits and ties, minimalist coordinated dance moves, great sounds from the instruments.  The guitar player acted as “Hype Man”  giving quite a rap at the beginning of the show, somewhat put on, but still interesting.  It felt as though the band was a little bit bored, not so much tearing it up, but I’m going to assume this is their style as a backup band- leaving all the glory for the front person.

Sharon Jones, gettin funky with some kid from the audience
Sharon Jones, gettin funky with some kid from the audience

Thats where Sharon Jones comes in.  There are no adequate words to describe this woman.  Shes fucking crazy.  She is 100% The Real Deal.  Her voice was flawless, and had enough soul to make Casper The Friendly Ghost come back to life and do the moonwalk.  Her stage presence was like a firecracker, she did not stop moving the entire night, dancing like a madwoman, simply lighting up the stage.  The real question is, where the hell was she for the majority of her life, and why is she not hailed worldwide as the 2nd coming of James Brown?  I heard an interview on NPR saying she was a Rikers Island Prison Guard for several years, and while this could be some made up story, she seemed pretty convincing, discussing the everyday details of the job.  She looks maybe in her late 40’s-early 50’s, and as you may have guessed from the previous sentences, is one of the greatest performers I have ever seen.  My other question is, how does she remain a “large” woman?  Seriously man, shes moving non stop, she must burn hundreds of calories every show, I just don’t get it.

Anyway, In addition to the stage presence of Jones, the backing band is just plain fantastic.  I would say, hands down, it was the greatest horn section I have ever seen.  The lines were so tight and so clear, it honestly reminded me of my favorite James Brown records.  The Baritone sax was perfect, punctuating bass lines with a little bit of growl.  The Trumpet was hitting high notes with ease, it was some Dizzy Gillespie shit.  The Tenor sax played some Maceo style solos, it was all there.   One of the most puzzling parts of the entire evening was their drummer, Homer Steinweiss (who also maintains a food blog)  On record his grooves are serious and straight ahead, though live, his performance seemed somewhat underwhelming.  Also, as Jeff pointed out, he was playing the bass drum with his left foot, using a double pedal, but the drum was in its normal position on the right.  How to explain this?  I have no idea.  There was technically nothing wrong with his playing, the feel was still there, it just didn’t really make me want to say “Hell Yea!”.  The bass playing was superb, the lines moved around, but never once got in the way.  Same thing for the guitars ( of which there were 2)  Their lines intertwined perfectly, they kept their solos minimal.   Overall, this is truly a band who knows how to support a front person.  Not one note was out of place, and nothing distracted from the vocal (though even if they tried, I very much doubt they could overshadow Jones.  Metallica could be up there and she would still stand out)

One Hilarious moment was when Jones brought up a young man from the audience, and danced, shall we say,  “All Up Ons”  It was quite entertaining.  But overall, the show was great.  This is a band like none other out there today.  It reassured me that serious music is still being made by serious musicians.  I don’t think one guitar effect was used all night, not even distortion.  Get out there and check it out, then go listen to The Jonas Brothers.  Tell me which one you prefer afterward.